KAAD-Auslandsakademie im Libanon: Friedensfördernde Kraft von Religion stärken
Religions are in need of spaces for self-reflection to unfold their peace promoting power – this is one of the main conclusions of this year’s KAAD Auslandsakademie in Lebanon. The academic event „Religion, Conflict, Conflict Transformation“ took place from 7 to 10 June at the Jesuite Saint Joseph University of Beirut (USJ). It brought together 54 scholars, alumni, representatives of KAAD partner universities and external guests.
„This academy is unprecedented“, said KAAD President Prof. Dr. Eberhard Schockenhoff (University of Freiburg) in his opening address: „For the first time in KAAD’s history we were able to welcome scholars studying at Middle Eastern Universities to a Auslandsakademie .“ Schockenhoff expressed his gratitude to the committed KAAD partners in Lebanon, Prof. Dr. Souad Slim and P. Dr. Jules Boutros, emphasizing their active assistance in building up the KAAD Third Country Scholarship Program in Lebanon as well as in preparing for this year’s academy.
Since the summer of 2015, KAAD has supported 36 students from Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan in starting or continuing their studies at Middle Eastern universities. The goal of the Third Country Scholarship Program is to establish a network of refugees and local sector experts who jointly engage for finding solutions to the major development problems of the Middle East region. The project is funded by the German Episcopal Conference (DBK), the Central Catholic Agency for Development Aid (KZE) and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
In his opening lecture, Prof. Dr. Dirk Ansorge (Philosophisch-Theologische Hochschule Sankt Georgen) concisely presented the current debate about the ambivalence of religion by introducing the positions of Girard and Assmann. He concluded that the peace promoting power of religion relies on three basic dimensions: recognition of difference, ability of critical reflection as well as a compassionate attitude towards the victims of violence.
In the keynote presentation of the afternoon session, the Rector of USJ, P. Prof. Dr. Salim Daccache, highlighted the importance of freedom of conscience and religion for the social cohesion in multireligious societies: „Diversity does not necessarily mean division.“ Educational surveys in Lebanon had shown that a significant set of social, moral, political and even spiritual values are common to all religious groups. An important question that remains is to which extent the educational system pursues the objective to prepare the new generation of students for the encounter with peers from different religious groups.
University lecturers from several other Lebanese universities also contributed to the conference program and thus reiterated their close cooperation with KAAD: Prof. Dr. Ziad Fahed (NDU), Dr. Roula Talhouk (USJ), P. Prof. Dr. Gaby Hachem (USEK) and Dr. Elias Halabi (UoB). KAAD is also actively collaborating with Adyan Foundation („Religions“) which is committed to raising awareness for the chances arising from the multireligious composition of Lebanese society. The inputs delivered by P. Prof. Fadi Daou, Dr. Nayla Tabbara, Prof. Dr. Wajih Kanso, Luai Sharafeddin, KAAD-scholars Dalia Al-Mokdad and Ramzi Merhej as well as KAAD alumnus Raymond El-Asmar provided valuable insights on ongoing institutional processes focusing on the positive potentials of religious diversity.
The intense Auslandsakademie program was accompanied by an excursion to the coastal city of Tripoli, a musical soirée and a talent show staged by the KAAD scholars. Following the conference, they came together for a workshop titled “Refugee Realities” in which the participants presented their multifaceted professional and volunteering activities in the field of refugee relief and peace promotion. In addition to this, scholars took the opportunity to have one-to-one meetings with the project officer of the KAAD Middle East Department Evgeni Goshev.
“The dialogue between local KAAD alumni and the current Syrian and Lebanese KAAD scholars in Lebanon was extremely vivid” said the Head of KAAD Middle East Department Dr. Christina Pfestroff. “A sense of openness as well as a huge intellectual curiosity were perceptible both in the conference hall and in informal talks during this year’s academic event. We were truly encouraged by seeing how eagerly participants were seeking the discussion on the peace promoting “soft power” of religions.”